A substantial amount of educational and psychological research has consistently demonstrated that African American students underperform academically relative to White students. For example, they tend to receive lower grades in school (e.g., Demo & Parker, 1987; Simmons, Brown, Bush, & Blyth, 1978), score lower on standardized tests of intellectual ability (e.g., Bachman, 1970; Herring, 1989; Reyes & Stanic, 1988; Simmons et al., 1978), drop out at higher rates (e.g., American Council on Education, 1990; Steele, 1992), and graduate from college with substantially lower grades than White students (e.g., Nettles, 1988). Such performance gaps can be attributed to any number of factors, such as socioeconomic status, academic preparation, and educational opportunities; however, Steele (1997) pointed out that even when background factors are held constant, subsequent achievement remains lower for minority students. Moreover, much research in this area has focused on how African American students’ lack of motivation and negative attitudes contribute to their inferior academic performance (Ogbu, 1990); yet many Black students often report high educational aspirations (Fordham, 1996; Fine, 1991; Ogbu, 1987, 1990; Hauser & Anderson, 1991), even higher than White students of comparable class background (MacLeod, 1995). What remains certain is the urgent need to explain what accounts for the persistent academic underachievement of Black students.
One widely held explanation for the achievement gap in test performance between Black and White students is that the tests are either culturally or racially biased. Jencks (1998) points out three types of biases...
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...lantic Monthly, 68-78.
Steele, C. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 6, 613-629.
Steele, C., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 5, 797-811.
Steele, C., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. (2002). Contending with group image: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat. (In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 34, pp. 379-440. New York, NY: Academic Press.
Vars, F. E., & Bowen, W. G. (1998). Scholastic aptitude test scores, race, and academic performance in selective colleges and universities. (In Jencks, C. & Phillips, M. (Eds.), The Black-White Test Score Gap (pp. 55-85). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.)
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